Friday, July 31, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Sheriff of Painted Post - Tom Gunn (Syl MacDowell)

Tom Gunn was the primary pseudonym of prolific Western pulpster Syl MacDowell. It may have been used as a house-name from time to time, but my impression is that Tom Gunn was usually MacDowell. And he's certainly the author of the long-running Painted Post series, which appeared in POPULAR WESTERN for almost twenty years. MacDowell took a number of the early stories, combined and expanded them into novels, and then sold them to the hardcover publisher Julian Messner. Some of them subsequently appeared as paperback reprints from Pocket Books.

THE SHERIFF OF PAINTED POST is the first of those paperback editions, and although it doesn't say so anywhere in the book, it's a "fix-up" of the first three stories in the series: "The Sheriff of Painted Post" (POPULAR WESTERN, November 1934), "Blue Steele Rides Again" (December 1934), and "Painted Post Pizen" (February 1935). The Julian Messner hardback edition came out later in 1935, the Pocket Books paperback in 1951. That's the edition I read, and the cover scan is from my copy.

With all that bibliographic information out of the way, how's the story, you ask? Well, it's pretty darned good. The paperback cover by Edward Vebell and the cover copy are spoilers, but it doesn't matter much because MacDowell reveals to the reader almost right away that the mysterious stranger who rides out of the lava hills is a wanted outlaw named "Wolf" Gray. Gray has escaped from prison in Idaho, but he's basically a decent sort who wants to put his owlhoot past behind him. He decides to take the name Smith, but when he encounters a happy-go-lucky cowpoke named Shorty Watts, a misunderstanding leads to the stranger being called Blue Steele instead, and the name sticks. The two new friends ride on to the nearby town of Painted Post, the center of some rangeland being plagued by the sinister rustler El Scorpio, and wouldn't you know it, the local sheriff is murdered by one of the outlaws just as Steele and Shorty arrive. Steele guns down the killer before the varmint can escape, so naturally enough, the citizens of Painted Post decide that he should be the new sheriff. What better way to break from his outlaw past than by becoming a lawman, Steele thinks, so he agrees, but only on the condition that he can have Shorty as his deputy.

As you can tell from that description of the opening couple of chapters, this is pure Western pulp, the sort of thing you've read in scores of stories and novels and seen in countless B-movies. Steele and Shorty go on to break up El Scorpio's gang and bring the ringleader to justice in the first section of the novel. The second involves competing cattle drives that play a part in the ongoing war between Painted Post and the neighboring town of Los Palos, a struggle that's complicated by the arrival of hated sheep in the area, and in the third and final section of the book, Sheriff Steele's lawless past not only crops up again, but Painted Post is threatened by a dam project that will put the town underwater. Interesting plots, but very traditional, nothing ground-breaking here.

But if it's pure pulp, MacDowell does it very well. Steele's background gives him a little more depth than some of the Western pulp heroes, rather than him being just another gun-dummy, and Shorty is a fine sidekick, tough and competent when he needs to be despite functioning as the comedy relief most of the time. There's a little too much "Yuh mangy polecat!" dialogue for my taste, but you have to expect that from the era. MacDowell's action scenes are top-notch, and he keeps things moving along at a nice pace. I liked this one enough that I checked my shelves and found the other Pocket Books reprint I have, PAINTED POST GUNPLAY, and ordered a couple more on-line. Plus I have quite a few issues of POPULAR WESTERN with Painted Post stories in them, and I'll get around to those eventually.

Oddly enough, considering that I liked this one, Syl MacDowell is also the author of what is probably my least-favorite Western pulp series, the Swap and Whopper stories that ran in THRILLING WESTERN. I've always thought I really ought to like those because the lead characters were clearly inspired by Abbott and Costello and I love Abbott and Costello. But the stories are really slapsticky and Western comedies walk a pretty thin line with me. The only author who seems able to succeed consistently in that genre as far as I'm concerned is W.C. Tuttle, and I think that's because Tuttle wrote good solid Westerns that had comedy in them, instead of the other way around.

THE SHERIFF OF PAINTED POST falls into the same category, a solid Western with some comedy. I doubt if I'll ever consider Syl MacDowell in the upper ranks of Western pulp authors along with Tuttle, Walt Coburn, T.T. Flynn, and many others, but I'll definitely read more of his work.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Digest Enthusiast, Book Two - Arkay Olgar, ed.

I've heard quite a bit about the new magazine The Digest Enthusiast, all of it good, and having read the second issue, I have to agree. For someone like me who grew up reading digest magazines—there was a wide selection of them available at most grocery and drug stores when I was a kid—this is a very entertaining publication.

The Digest Enthusiast covers all sorts of magazines. Included in this issue are articles about The Mysterious Traveler Magazine, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, Borderline, Paperback Parade, Asimov's Science Fiction, Analog/Astounding, and even the Archie Comics digests. Plus articles on other comics, like the very intriguing Italian publication Mister No (I wish some of these were available in English translations) and on literary magazines. There are also fine interviews with my old friend Gary Lovisi, publisher of Gryphon books; mystery writer Robert Lopresti; and Steve Darnell, publisher of Nostalgia Digest. Rounding out the issue, appropriately enough, are four short stories by Joe Wehrle Jr., D.D. Ploog, Richard Krauss, and John M. Kuharik. These are excellent crime and fantasy yarns.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Digest Enthusiast: Book Two, enough so that I've gone back and ordered the first issue so I can catch up, and I intend to be a regular reader from now on. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Winning Season

We're fond of inspirational sports movies around here, but THE WINNING SEASON, from 2009, is one that we missed until now. It's the story (not based on or inspired by actual events, as far as I know) of a washed-up high school basketball coach (Sam Rockwell) who's been reduced to working as a busboy in a restaurant because he attacked a player on an opposing team during a game. An old friend and teammate of his who is now a principal hires him to coach again, but this time he's in charge of girl's basketball.

When he starts the job, he finds that his team is a bunch of misfits (of course) who may or may not have any talent. So far, this set-up is strictly by the book. But then the script veers off and cleverly upends some of the clichés of the genre while exploiting others to the hilt. The result is a surprisingly funny movie where you genuinely don't know what to expect all the time.

Sam Rockwell is an odd but interesting actor, and he does a good job here playing a protagonist who's really not very likable, but you root for him anyway. Emma Roberts, who's probably tired of being called "Julia Roberts' niece", is also good as one of the basketball players. The great Margo Martindale is the bus driver and assistant coach. THE WINNING SEASON is just quirky enough to set itself apart from similar movies, and that made it a pretty good little film. I enjoyed it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Shotgun Rider - Peter Brandvold

Peter Brandvold returns with THE SHOTGUN RIDER, a terrific stand-alone Western novel (or maybe it's the first of a series, who knows) about Dag Enberg, a big Norwegian currently working as a shotgun guard on a stagecoach line in southern Arizona. Dag is a pretty messed-up hombre, especially since returning from the Civil War. He drinks too much, and he's in love with a beautiful Mexican soiled dove even though he's married to the stepdaughter of the richest man in town...who as the owner of the stage line happens to be Dag's boss. Then his wife is kidnapped and he's forced to get involved in a stagecoach robbery, which leads to Dag winding up behind bars. To rescue his wife and clear his name, he has to escape and set off on a dangerous pursuit across the border and deep into Mexico...

That noirish set-up turns into a top-notch adventure yarn. As always in a Brandvold novel, the characters are interesting, the setting is rendered vividly, and the action-packed plot races along. THE SHOTGUN RIDER is entertaining from start to finish and with its gritty tone would have fit right in with the Gold Medal Western line from the Fifties. It's about the length of a Gold Medal, too, which means no padding, just great story. This is one of Mean Pete's best and one of the best books I've read this year, period. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Five-Novels Monthly, March 1940

I'm not sure what's happening on this cover of FIVE-NOVELS MONTHLY, but it appears to be on the odd side.The five novels are by Stewart Sterling, John Murray Reynolds, S. Gordon Gurwit (names that are at least fairly familiar to me, especially Sterling), and Ben Peter Freeman and David Allan Ross, neither of whom I've heard of. All the stories sound pretty good, though, judging by their titles.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Blue Ribbon Western, March 1939

Nice action cover on this issue of BLUE RIBBON WESTERN, and it's interesting to me because it has the magazine version of Harry Sinclair Drago's novel "Doctor Two Guns", which was published that same year, 1939, in hardback by William Morrow under the house-name Peter Field. Drago wrote two books under that name, the other being THE TENDERFOOT KID. Both were stand-alones, not part of the long-running Powder Valley series. The other stories in this issue are by house-names and little known writers.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Now Available: Powdersmoke Christmas and Wild West Christmas

(What's that? It's not Christmas, you say? Well, no, but it's Christmas in July for Prairie Rose Publications, and since I'm a member of the extended family, I guess you could say, their Sundown Press line is reprinting a couple of stories I wrote in years past for Christmas anthologies. Judge Earl Stark and my Texas Ranger character Cobb both make appearances. Livia has a Christmas double as well, featuring Lucas Hallam and Buffalo Newcomb. It may be 100 degrees outside, but these are all good yarns no matter what time of year it is. Check 'em out!)


’Tis The Season For Justice 
It's a life or death Christmas Eve for the man accused of murdering the son of the richest man in the territory. Former shotgun guard Judge Earl Stark knows how to stomp his own snakes, and he makes sure 'TIS THE SEASON FOR JUSTICE. 

Presents for One and All 
Texas Ranger Cobb is supposed to pick up a prisoner wanted in Parker County and take him back down to Weatherford. Instead he finds himself battling a gang of outlaws and tangling with an old coot driving a wagon full of Christmas gifts, and it's up to him to make sure there are PRESENTS FOR ONE AND ALL.


Blue Norther 
Hired gun Lucas Hallam has been outnumbered plenty of times, but when he comes upon a necktie party for a young boy accused of cattle rustling, he has to step into danger once more—even with the odds stacked against him. No one should hang on Christmas Eve. 

When the nearby cattle stampede, it looks like things can’t get any worse. But the weather is turning deadly, and if they don’t get the cattle to shelter—as well as themselves—everything will be lost. Can Hallam protect them from the coming BLUE NORTHER? 

A Creature Was Stirring 
Mistaken for a “skookum”, Buffalo Newcomb is shot by a young boy, Tom Villard, as he stops by a creek to fish. When he comes to in a small cabin, Buffalo is grateful to realize that the boy’s mother, Ella, has removed the bullet and he has a safe place to recover. 

It’s Christmas Eve, and A CREATURE WAS STIRRING—Buffalo can only hope he’s strong enough to keep it from destroying the woman who has shown him only kindness.

Forgotten Books: Gun the Dame Down - Gil Brewer

This is one of the three previously unpublished novels by Gil Brewer that Stark House is reprinting in a handsome new volume, and while the dates when Brewer wrote the books are unknown, GUN THE DAME DOWN seems very much like a Fifties novel, including that hardboiled title. It's also one of the few private eye novels Brewer ever wrote.

In fact, this book hits so many of the familiar private eye notes that at times it almost reads like a parody of the genre. There's the first-person narrator who's a somewhat seedy private shamus; the rich guy who has both a cheating wife and a beautiful blond nymphomaniac daughter; the private eye's buddy on the police force; the multiple murders; scenes set in squalid fishing camps and roadhouses; the private eye getting hit on the head and knocked out and taken for a ride by colorful but brutal hired goons...Well, you get the idea.

But what makes this stew of the familiar worth reading is that Brewer turns up the heat on it and lets it boil over by playing everything absolutely straight and compressing the action into a short period of time (part of one afternoon and a night). GUN THE DAME DOWN is short, maybe 35,000 words, and it's one of the fastest books you'll ever read. There's always something happening, and private eye Bill Death (yes, that's really his name) is nearly always in danger, whether he realizes it at the time or not. There are great noirish lines like the first one, "I walked into it with my eyes open", and great characters like the beautiful dogwalker Cadillac Smith, who may or may not have some deadly secrets of her own.

Given its length and pace, I'm surprised Brewer wasn't able to sell this book, maybe to Donald Wollheim for one of the Ace Double mysteries. There are several scenes that would have made great cover material for, say, Norman Saunders. But thanks to Stark House, we get to read it anyway. I'll be getting to the other two novels in this volume, but for now, GUN THE DAME DOWN is highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Now Available: Twerp in Time: Missing! Lost City of Gold - James and Livia Reasoner

Dennis Fletcher has a problem...or two. He's extra-smart, and even though he's skipped a grade, he's still bigger than a lot of the older kids! Making friends is hard--and something he wants more than anything. When he invites two of his classmates over to work on a group project, they suddenly find themselves in the middle of Coronado's Conquistadors--and Dennis's execution is slated only a few days away! How did they travel back in time to the 1500's? And how are they going to get back to their own time before Dennis meets his end? The pouch of special powder around his neck contains the answers--if only he can figure out how to use it to save them all and get them home to Texas--500 years in the future!

(I think this is a pretty entertaining book for kids--or for old geezers who never grew up, like me.)

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Flaming Star

Livia and I were both a little surprised to realize that neither of us had ever seen this 1960 movie, even though it was on TV many, many times while we were growing up. It's a Western, and Elvis Presley is in it (he even sings two songs), but it's not really what I think of as an Elvis Presley movie.

Not that I have anything against Elvis. I like a lot of his songs, and he made some decent movies, among them FOLLOW THAT DREAM (based on the novel PIONEER, GO HOME by Richard Powell) and KING CREOLE (which is loosely based on the Harold Robbins novel, A STONE FOR DANNY FISHER, a book I read in high school and liked a lot).

FLAMING STAR is another one based on a novel by a writer I like, Clair Huffaker, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Nunnally Johnson. It's a settlers vs. Kiowas yarn set in Texas in 1878, with the added wrinkle that Elvis plays the half-breed son of a rancher and a Kiowa woman, which puts him in the middle of the two enemy forces. And he turns in a pretty good performance, too, which he was certainly capable of doing with the right script and director.

The director of this one is Don Siegel, so you know there are plenty of gritty, well-staged action scenes in the movie. This is a well-made film all around, with nice photography and a strong cast in addition to Elvis: Steve Forrest as the older brother, John McIntire and Dolores del Rio as the parents, Rodolpho Acosta as the Kiowa war chief, and a young Barbara Eden, absolutely gorgeous but with not much to do, although her role gets a little stronger in the second half of the movie.

Overall, this is a pretty bleak little film, with characters that aren't all that likable and no easy solutions to their problems. I didn't care much for the ending but was impressed by it anyway, and I'm glad I finally saw it.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Coming Soon: Sherlock Holmes: Zombies Over London - Stephen Mertz

Sherlock Holmes faces perhaps the greatest challenge yet in his long-running war with his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty—the living dead walk, hungry for flesh and doing the bidding of the evil professor!

From a dirigible carrying a deadly cargo high in the sky over London to a sinister castle lurking in the beautiful English countryside, the Great Detective and his friend Dr. Watson battle to thwart Moriarty's latest scheme to wreak havoc and loot one of the world's great cities. Thousands of lives hang in the balance, and it will take all of Holmes' incredible deductive skills to figure out just what a young writer named H.G. Wells and the German teenager Albert Einstein have to do with Moriarty's plans!

Legendary thriller writer Stephen Mertz takes on some of the world's most iconic characters in this fast-paced tale that is part mystery novel, part horror yarn, and part steampunk inventiveness. It's a breathless adventure that's sure to entertain from first page to last!

(I'm going to be sending out a limited number of e-book review copies of this novel later this week. If you'd be interested in getting one, let me know in the comments or email me. It's a dandy.)

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Terence X. O'Leary's War Birds, March 1935

I've never read any of Arthur Guy Empey's stories from this short-lived variation on the WAR BIRDS pulp that added a science fiction element to the regular aviation stories that had been featured in the magazine for years. In fact, the hero of the series, two-fisted Terence X. O'Leary his own self, had starred in many war and aviation yarns before he started battling mad scientists and the like. But that's certainly an exciting cover by Rudolph Belarski.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, August 1951

Interesting, dramatic cover on this fairly late issue of POPULAR WESTERN. The art is by Kirk Wilson. That striking redhead looks more like she ought to be on a cover of RANCH ROMANCES, and in fact Wilson did mostly Western romance covers for the pulps. I'm not familiar with Forrest R. Brown, the author of the lead novel in this issue which is acknowledged on the cover to be a reprint of a book published by Greenberg, one of the lending library publishers from the mid-Thirties that brought out a lot of rewritten and expanded Western pulp stories. Looks like the process went the other direction this time. But Joseph Chadwick and Philip Ketchum, good hardboiled Western authors, have stories in this issue, too, making it a good bet to be entertaining.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Forgotten Books: Tarzan the Terrible - Edgar Rice Burroughs

I read TARZAN THE UNTAMED when I was in the sixth grade, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, and I soon followed it up with the sequel, TARZAN THE TERRIBLE, which I'd never reread until now. This one starts out with Tarzan continuing the search for Jane, who's been kidnapped by German soldiers during World War I. He soon discovers that she's escaped from her captors and set off on her own, and in trailing her Tarzan finds himself in another of Edgar Rice Burroughs' vividly created lost civilizations, this one the land of Pal-ul-don, enclosed by an almost impenetrable swamp. This isolation has allowed prehistoric species to survive, such as the triceratops, known to the inhabitants of Pal-ul-don as a gryf. Humanity has evolved differently in Pal-ul-don, too, and the people there have tails, among other oddities.

It's a great setting for a Tarzan adventure, and Burroughs has a lot of fun with it, plunging Tarzan and ultimately Jane as well into wars, political and religious intrigue (with some distinctly satirical overtones about our own world), and jungle derring-do. Tarzan learns how to tame the gryfs, sort of, and winds up riding around on one. If the mental image of Tarzan and Jane riding around on the back of a triceratops doesn't set your pulse to racing, well, then, you're not a twelve-year-old boy at heart like I am.

All the quibbles I had about TARZAN THE UNTAMED don't really apply to this novel. Yes, there's a lot of capture/escape/pursuit and cutting back and forth between the various storylines, but it's much more focused in TARZAN THE UNTAMED, which isn't nearly as episodic as the previous book. The land of Pal-ul-don is a well-developed setting, and it's not surprising that Will Murray made use of it in his new novel TARZAN: RETURN TO PAL-UL-DON (my review of which will be coming up soon). It bothered me a little that Tarzan gets captured as easily as he does a couple of times, but hey, not even an Ape Man is infallible. And the ending, honestly, is a bit of a deus ex machina. But all in all, this adventure roars right along quite nicely from start to finish and is well deserving of its place in the upper rank of Tarzan novels.

It's strange, looking back on that time more than fifty years ago, and remembering that when I first read them, TARZAN THE UNTAMED was my favorite of this linked pair, although I liked TARZAN THE TERRIBLE just fine. My opinion has turned around with this recent rereading. I think TARZAN THE TERRIBLE is a much better book. Still, I liked them both and am happy to have revisited them five decades later. (The scan at the top is from the Ballantine edition, with cover artwork by Richard Powers. That's the edition I read there at the Rock School when I probably should have been doing actual schoolwork. But hey, in reality I was studying for my career, I just didn't know it at the time.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Other Places - Nicholas Litchfield, ed.

OTHER PLACES is the latest anthology of stories, poems, non-fiction, and interviews taken from the Lowestoft Chronicle, the excellent on-line literary magazine founded and edited by Nicholas Litchfield. The overall theme of the magazine is travel, but that's a pretty broad subject area, as the wide variety of pieces in this handsome trade paperback proves.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a poetry guy, but I enjoyed the poems in this volume, especially the one by Jay Parini, who's also the subject of one of the interviews. Another interview is with novelist Sheldon Russell, who has written a couple of Western novels (one of which won a Spur Award from Western Writers of America) and a mystery series about a one-armed railroad detective during World War II, which is a great concept. I haven't read any of Russell's novels yet, but I own copies of most of them and plan to get to them soon. His interview in OTHER PLACES is interesting and entertaining.

All the stories are good, but my favorites are "Break and Enter" by Peter Biello, "Shutterbugs" by David Hagerty, and "Cathy Has Visitors" by William Quincy Belle, all of which are crime stories, and "The Hill Behind the House" by Michael C. Keith, which is science fiction, sort of. That's my genre bias coming out, I guess. "Segway With the Bulls" by Geoffrey B. Cain is more literary, but it's pretty funny, too.

If you're interested in literary fiction, I highly recommend the Lowestoft Chronicle, and OTHER PLACES is a great sampling of the sort of work you can find there.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Now Available: Outlaw Ranger #4: The Last War Chief - James Reasoner

G.W. Braddock might not be an official Texas Ranger anymore, but that doesn't mean he's going to stop chasing down outlaw gangs! On the trail of a vicious band of killers and bank robbers led by the notorious Clete Fenner, Braddock finds himself with an unexpected ally: an ancient Indian who claims to be the last war chief of the Comanche. Their pursuit of the Fenner gang will lead them to a bloody showdown on the Texas plains, with the lives of innocents hanging in the balance! 

It's an Outlaw Ranger novella this time around, 17,000 words of gritty action for less than a buck. There's no print edition for the moment, but my plan is to write another Outlaw Ranger novella later in the year and combine it with this one for the print edition. I'm enjoying this series and plan to keep it going for a while, as long as I can find the time to write them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Cobbler

I tend to like most of Adam Sandler's movies (I know, that probably puts me in the minority here), but I'd never heard of THE COBBLER, which came out last year. I guess it didn't get much notice because it's not a typical Adam Sandler movie. For one thing, there's no sign of Kevin James or David Spade or Rob Schneider...

Anyway, in this comedy/drama/fantasy he plays Max Simkin, a shoe repairman in New York City who operates the same shop that his great-grandfather started more than a hundred years ago. Something else has come down to Max along with the shop: an antique stitching machine for putting shoes together. Then Max discovers that the stitching machine has another use: when he uses it to repair someone's shoes, then puts those shoes on, he takes on the appearance of the other person although he retains his own mind and personality.

Yeah, it's not the strongest gimmick in the world, but the filmmakers use it in some fairly interesting ways, including involving Max in a criminal conspiracy that puts him in danger from hired killers. The script is funny in places, the plot twists hold together okay, and the cast, which includes Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, and the fine character Fritz Weaver, is pretty good. THE COBBLER is a decent movie, not a great one by any means, and I didn't fall asleep once during it, which isn't bad for me these days.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Phantom Automobiles - Scott Dennis Parker

Newpaper reporter Gordon Gardner was a supporting character in Scott Dennis Parker's first novel, WADING INTO WAR, but in Parker's latest novel THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES, he takes center stage in another fine period mystery set in 1940s Houston.

Private detective Benjamin Wade makes a cameo appearance in this one, but Gardner takes the lead in investigating the mysterious death of a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman who was killed in a car accident after claiming to have seen automobiles disappear into thin air. At the same time, Gardner is teamed with a beautiful news photographer, Lucy Barnes, who turns out to be a great character. They become convinced that what appears to be a simple accident is much more sinister than that, but their investigation runs into resistance not only from their editor but from the police as well. Throw in a nightclub owner, a sinister doctor, a gun-toting farmer, an artist who also turns up dead, and a rival reporter, and you've got a story that gallops along with plenty of action and mystery.

Parker does a really fine job of weaving his plot together, turning what seems to be a simple story into something much more complex. Gardner and Lucy are really likable protagonists, too. Parker also captures the time period well without overdoing it on the historical references, a trap that it's easy for writers to fall into when doing period fiction. All in all, THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES is thoroughly entertaining and very reminiscent of the sort of classic mystery novels that were published during the Forties.

As a bonus, Parker includes a short story, "The Crimson Sleep", supposedly written by Gordon Gardner, who supplements his income as a reporter by writing mystery stories for the detective pulps, a nice touch that you know a pulp fan like me really appreciates.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ace-High Detective Magazine, August 1936

This cover by Malvin Singer reminds me a little of a Weird Menace cover, and the presence of Wyatt Blassingame among the authors is also reminiscent of the Shudder Pulp genre, since he was one of its leading practitioners. ACE-HIGH DETECTIVE MAGAZINE appears to have been a straight-up detective pulp, though, with stories in this issue by Fred MacIsaac, Norbert Davis, Thomas Walsh, Lawrence Treat, and William E. Barrett, who went on to write the novel LILIES OF THE FIELD many years later. Looks like a good issue.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Now Available for Pre-Order: Tripl3 Cross - John Hegenberger

It's  1988, and small-town P.I. Eliot Cross is searching for his long-lost father. Then, a CIA informant says that Dad has been in deep cover for over twenty years. Now, the informant's been murdered and Eliot is on the run.

Scrambling to clear his name, Eliot journeys from Washington D.C. to Havana, Cuba, struggling against deadly drug-runners, syndicate hit-men and his own violent nature. But the worst is yet to come, as Eliot discovers his father is at the center of an international conspiracy, a nuclear threat and a double cross...or is that a triple cross?

Veteran author John Hegenberger spins a yarn that is both an exciting thriller and a compelling piece of "noirstalgia", expertly recreating a sense of late-Eighties paranoia and double-dealing and painting a vivid picture of Washington and Cuba during that era, as well as saving a shocking twist for the very end. TRIPL3 CROSS is pure reading entertainment.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: .44 Western, May 1951

A nice simple cover on this fairly late issue of .44 WESTERN. There are several reprints in here, common for this era: a yarn by John Colohan from a 1935 issue of DIME WESTERN; a Bennett Foster novel that originally appeared in ARGOSY in 1939; a Bart Cassidy story probably by Harry F. Olmsted also from 1939; and a 1935 story by Dennison Rust (a name that's always struck me as a pseudonym, although I don't know who used it). The new stories are by John Reese and John Jo Carpenter. Reprints or not, an issue well worth reading, I think.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Coming Soon From Stark House: Three Unpublished Novels by Gil Brewer

From Greg Shepard, publisher of Stark House Press:

Gil Brewer is a favorite at Stark House, so when we were given the opportunity to publish three previously unprinted works, we jumped at the chance.

One of these novels, ANGRY ARNOLD, was obviously written in 1976--there's a film reference in the book that gives it away. We can guess that THE EROTICS comes from this period as well based on the language, which had loosened up considerably since Brewer's start in the 1950s.

GUN THE DAME DOWN is a real treat. It is one of Brewer's very early novels, a detective story rejected when he first wrote it as being too risque. The editor's notes on the original manuscript had x-ed out a good deal of Brewer's signature sex scenes. We put them back in.

Brewer's books are sweaty, frantic, crazy noir deliriums, and that mania infuses even these previously unpublished works. Noted critic Chris Morgan provides an appropriately amped-up introduction, and Gil's sister Nancy also contributes a short piece on their growing up together.

We're excited to share these three lost treasures with a modern audience.

And we're mighty excited to get to read them. At least I am. Brewer's books are like nobody else's, and I'll take a book with a distinctive voice any day of the week. This volume will be out in September, but you can pre-order it now from Amazon or directly from Stark House.

Forgotten Books: Crisis on Multiple Earths - Gardner Fox

After reading THE GOLDEN AGE, James Robinson's deconstruction of some of DC's Golden Age superheroes, a while back, I was in the mood to read some of the real thing, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS, a trade paperback from 2002, reprints a series of stories from JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA that were a big deal in comics fandom in the early to mid-Sixties. Some quick background for those of you who aren't familiar with it (and for those of you who haven't muttered, "Another damn comic book post on Reasoner's blog" and clicked on to something else):

When the Silver Age was launched by the introduction of The Flash in 1956, in SHOWCASE #4, DC's Golden Age heroes were long since gone and had no place in this new version of the DC Universe. But writer Gardner Fox, who had written stories featuring many of those heroes in the Forties, remembered them and came up with a brilliant way to bring them back. He imagined another Earth, occupying the same space as the regular DC Earth, but vibrating at a slightly different frequency. That Earth, which Fox dubbed Earth-Two, was where the Golden Age characters lived. The Flash from Earth-One, Barry Allen, met the Flash from Earth-Two, Jay Garrick, in the iconic story "Flash of Two Worlds" (which I happen to have bought off the spinner rack in Tompkins' Drugstore, by the way).

Fox kept playing with that concept in a few more Flash stories, then went whole hog in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #21, in the summer of 1963. In this story, "Crisis on Earth-One!", and its sequel in the next issue, aptly titled "Crisis on Earth-Two!", Fox reintroduced several more Golden Age characters from the Justice Society of America and had them cross the vibrational barrier to meet their Earth-One counterparts, the Justice League of America. (I missed these two issues when they were new but bought beat-up used copies of them later at Thompson's Bookstore in downtown Fort Worth.)

Well, this two-part story was a huge success, both critically and financially, and for years after that, the JLA and the JSA would team up in a two-parter every summer. The fans loved 'em. I was a semi-regular reader of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (I was a Marvel fan, first and foremost by then, but I read a lot of DC comics, too) and I always managed to pick up the JLA/JSA crossover. CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS reprints the first four of those annual epics, the forerunners of the annual Big Event storylines from both DC and Marvel that have gone a long way toward ruining current comics for long-time fans such as myself (or "curmudgeons", if we're being honest).

Anyway, these stories from 1963-66, with their more innocent attitudes, almost non-stop slam-bang action, and crisp scripts by Gardner Fox are just tremendous fun as far as I'm concerned. True, they're a little low-key in places, and the lack of real ambition on the part of the villains is a good example of what some have cited as the real difference between Marvel and DC during that era: Both companies could take the same basic concept, but where DC came up with Matter-Eater Lad, Marvel came up with Galactus. Despite that, while reading these stories I was flipping the pages and having a great time.

I haven't mentioned the art. The pencils in all eight stories are by Mike Sekowsky, and I knew even then that Sekowsky's art was...odd, let's say. His enormously barrel-chested figures always seemed unbalanced to me, as if they were about to fall on their faces. Anatomy aside, though, I never had any trouble following what was going on in a story with art by Mike Sekowsky. His storytelling was top-notch, and he was capable of drawing some pretty memorable panels here and there. A good inker, like Murphy Anderson on the original covers of these issues, helped a lot.

So if you're an old-time comics fan like me, CRISIS ON MULTIPLE EARTHS gets a very high recommendation. I really enjoyed reading these stories again. If you started reading comics in the past ten years, you might look at them and say, "What is this crap?"

You really had to be there.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Legend of Caleb York - Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Mickey Spillane certainly isn't the first name I think of when the subject of Western movies comes up, but as Max Allan Collins explains in his introduction to this novel, Spillane was good friends with John Wayne and at one point even wrote a screenplay for Wayne's production company Batjac. That movie was never produced, but Spillane's screenplay serves as the basis for this novelization by Collins, another top-notch posthumous collaboration by these two writers.

THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK is a very traditional Western featuring many elements you've seen before: despicable villains in the person of a corrupt sheriff and his crew of brutal deputies/henchmen; the frightened citizens of the town treed by said sheriff (in this case, Trinidad, New Mexico); a sultry saloon owner who's no better than she has to be; an old rancher and his beautiful daughter; an eccentric old desert rat reminiscent of the immortal Gabby Hayes (yes, Spillane and Collins follow The James Reasoner Rule, as Bill Crider has dubbed it); and last but certainly not least, the mysterious stranger who rides into town and sets off a bloody chain reaction of events. The crooked sheriff has his sights set on both the old rancher's spread and the man's lovely daughter, and the rancher has sent a telegram asking for help from the notorious gunfighter Caleb York, or rather, when he finds out that York has been reported dead, the man who gunned down York.

So who is the mysterious stranger? Spillane and Collins make us wait almost until the end of the book to find out, and this twist, along with Collins' fast-paced prose, elevates THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK into a fine Western novel. It's an entertaining tale filled with gritty action and interesting characters, and I hope there'll be a sequel or two. I'll certainly read them if there are. If you're a Western fan and haven't yet read THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK, I recommend it.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Holiday

(This post originally appeared on August 29, 2009.)

HOLIDAY has a lot in common with the better known THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, which was released two years later in 1940. Both films star Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, are based on plays by Philip Barry, and poke droll fun at the foibles of society’s upper crust. In HOLIDAY, Grant plays an up-and-coming young stockbroker who meets and falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy industrialist while they’re both on vacation in Lake Placid. They return to New York planning to get married, but first they have to introduce Grant to the family and get the approval of the girl’s father.

In a nice twist, Hepburn doesn’t play Grant’s fiancée but rather her sister. Grant’s character has some charming eccentricities, such as turning back flips when he’s happy, and it doesn’t take long for him and Hepburn’s character to realize that they’re kindred spirits. Meanwhile, another of Grant’s “oddities”, at least to his fiancée’s father, is that he wants to make enough money while he’s young so that he can retire and just enjoy life. When he says that he doesn’t want to make “too much money”, the industrialist just looks at him with a blank stare indicating that he can’t even grasp the concept of “too much money”.

The romantic triangle is kept pretty low-key for most of the movie, and while the script is more amusing than it is actually funny, there are a few laugh-out-loud moments. There are also some surprisingly dark moments for a romantic comedy, most of them provided by Lew Ayres as the industrialist’s alcoholic son who wants to escape from his father’s oppressive influence but can’t find the courage to do so. The rest of the supporting cast is very good, including the great Edward Everett Horton. (Probably very few members of my generation can hear Edward Everett Horton’s voice without thinking of “Fractured Fairy Tales” on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.)

HOLIDAY isn’t as good as THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, or for that matter, BRINGING UP BABY, the classic Grant/Hepburn screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks. However, it is a solidly entertaining film and well worth watching if you haven’t seen it before.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Now Available: Blaze! Zombies Over Yonder - Stephen Mertz

It's the wildest BLAZE! adventure yet, as J.D. and Kate investigate the mysterious death of a mine owner and find themselves facing a danger unlike any they've ever encountered. From bloodthirsty outlaws to cold-blooded killers to marauding Indians, they thought they had seen it all—but the looming castle atop a ridge near the settlement of Yonder, Arizona, holds something new and deadly. It's the Old West's only team of husband-and-wife gunfighters versus a sinister count and his walking dead minions—and hot lead may not be enough to stop them! 

Legendary action writer Stephen Mertz spins a fast-paced yarn filled with suspense, horror, and non-stop action in ZOMBIES OVER YONDER!

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, November 25, 1937

A fine adventure cover on one of the top adventure pulps. Arthur O. Friel, Clarence E. Mulford (with part of a Hopalong Cassidy serial), and Bertrand W. Sinclair are the best-known names in this issue. I always like those "red sun" covers on SHORT STORIES.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Cowboy Stories, January 1935

A striking close-up cover on this issue of COWBOY STORIES, and a good line-up of authors with a featured story by James P. Olsen and other yarns by Murray Leinster, Allan R. Bosworth, S. Omar Barker, Archie Joscelyn, and Stephen Payne. Well worth a dime, I'll bet.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Forgotten Books: Tarzan the Untamed - Edgar Rice Burroughs

I have a copy of Will Murray's new Tarzan novel, RETURN TO PAL-UL-DON, but I thought before I read it that I would reread the two original Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs most closely associated with it, TARZAN THE UNTAMED and TARZAN THE TERRIBLE. RETURN TO PAL-UL-DON is a sequal to TARZAN THE TERRIBLE, and since TARZAN THE UNTAMED leads directly into that book, it seemed like the place to start. Besides, I vividly recall reading TARZAN THE UNTAMED during study hall in sixth grade (at the Rock School in Azle, for those of you familiar with it) more than fifty years ago and thinking it was great.

Well, this is one of those cases where the reality doesn't quite match the memory, but I'm still glad I read the book. For those of you who haven't, it's divided roughly into thirds. In the first third, German troops raid Lord Greystoke's farm in British East Africa during World War I and murder Tarzan's wife Jane. Tarzan isn't there at the time, of course, but when he finds out about Jane's death, he sets off to wipe out the entire German army in Africa and darned near succeeds. This is the most famous and controversial section of the book, which not surprisingly angered a lot of German readers when it was published there. It's also pretty good, with lots of fast-moving action.

Then in the second section of the novel, Tarzan meets a beautiful blond German spy and a stranded British aviator, and the three of them have a bunch of adventures both together and separately, mostly involving a tribe of cannibals and some native troops who have deserted from the German army. In the first section Burroughs stuck to one storyline, Tarzan's vengeance quest, but in the middle third his trademark parallel plotting pops up, and the structure emphasizes that the only purpose of this seemingly endless round of capture/escape, capture/escape, capture/escape is to fill up pages. It gets tiresome in a hurry.

But then things pick up again in the third and final section of the book when our three protagonists find themselves in one of the many lost cities that are scattered across Burroughs' version of Africa. It's not nearly as inventive as some of the other lost cities Burroughs came up with, but it's colorfully described and the story perks along at a much better clip before coming to a rousing finale. Burroughs saves two big plot twists for the very end, but I suspect most readers saw them coming a long way off, even in 1917 when this yarn first appeared in serial form under the title "Tarzan and the Valley of Luna" in the pulp magazine ALL-STORY WEEKLY.

So TARZAN THE UNTAMED doesn't hold up quite as well as I might have hoped, considering how much I liked it all those years ago, but there's enough good stuff in it that I certainly enjoyed reading it. If that middle section had been tightened up a lot it would have landed in the top five or six books in the series as far as I'm concerned. But the real reason I read it was because it lays the groundwork for TARZAN THE TERRIBLE, and I'll be getting to that one soon.

(The cover scan at the top of this post is the edition I read all those years ago, with art by Robert Abbett, who did the covers for most, if not all, of the mid-Sixties Ballantine editions of Burroughs' novels, I believe. I bought every one of them I found on the paperback spinner racks back in those days. I thought about buying a copy of that same edition on-line so I could reread it that way, but I wound up reading an e-book version instead.)